10 Ways Loan Officers Can Build Strong Referral Relationships with Real Estate Agents

With interest rates rising and loan volume falling, a steady stream of borrower business is far from guaranteed. Today, strong relationships that facilitate reliable referral business are vital for loan officer success. And when it comes to referrals, real estate agents still provide the most profitable leads.

Forging a close professional relationship with an agent is one of the most valuable things you can do for your lending career, but empty promises and miscommunication from loan officers have made many agents hesitant to collaborate with lenders. 

We spoke with top agents from across the country to get firsthand advice on what loan officers should (and should not) do to foster collaborative relationships with agents. Here are a few of the best real estate agent networking tips for loan officers.

1. Share your industry knowledge.

The mortgage industry changes at a breakneck pace, and agents want to know they’re partnering with an industry expert who will help guide them and their borrowers through the various nuances and steps of the mortgage process.

Due to shifting market conditions, some forecasts are calling for the U.S. non-QM market to quadruple to $100 billion in 2022. With demand for non-QM, Jumbo, HELOCs, and other products on the rise, it’s more important than ever to impress agents with your knowledge of in-demand offerings. Demonstrate your loan product expertise by guiding agents and borrowers through a wide range of options that work for varying homebuyer situations.

2. Add value with email marketing.

Because agents get so many emails from lenders, it’s vital to figure out a way to add value and differentiate yourself with your email marketing. One agent we talked to raved about a loan officer who would send him weekly industry updates and rates. This insight is especially helpful to the agent because it provides him with need-to-know, timely information in an easy-to-digest format.

Put yourself in the mindset of agents in your market: What value-add information would be most useful and cause you to consistently click into an email? In today’s market, that might include a quick rundown on growing opportunities in the marketplace, takeaways on borrower trends, and a summary on loan product demand. Remember: As a lender, you have access to information, including borrower pain points and more, that agents would likely consider valuable. Leverage that insight to grab their attention and create goodwill. 

3. Grow your social presence.

Agents rely heavily on referrals to drive their business, so they’re constantly looking for ways to build their brand and gain exposure. Work on building your social media presence so you can sweeten the deal for potential agent partners by being able to provide them exposure and co-branded opportunities. In a competitive environment, having a significant social following will set you apart since you’ll be able to offer a benefit (i.e. an audience of potential customers) beyond just the loan. 

Unsure where to start on these marketing efforts? 

4. Deliver on your promises—and proactively tackle issues.

As an Inman Report notes, “Lender marketing efforts directed at real estate professionals mean nothing if the lenders cannot back up their advertised claims. Real estate professionals only want to work with lending partners with a proven track record whom they can trust to help clients get what they need to close on time.”

Agents want to know that you and your team can deliver on the closing date, consistently. And if you can’t? Proactively communicate with agents to mitigate the fallout. 

As Mindy Jensen, a real estate agent in Colorado, puts it, “Bad things happen—don’t hide them. My buyers just went out and bought a house full of furniture on credit before closing and threw their DTI out of whack. Now, they’re no longer able to qualify for the loan. That sucks, but it isn’t going to change. If you encounter a problem, let me know as soon as you discover it.”

5. Establish a local presence.

Real estate agents want a local lender who knows their market and can be available to meet the borrower face-to-face. Focus your networking efforts in your local market by becoming an affiliate member of your local real estate agent association. Especially in competitive markets, that means your pre-qualification letter will help your homebuyers offer rise to the top of the pack.

“It’s in my buyers’ best interest to work with a local lender,” comments Chloe Seymore from RED Collective. “Someone who knows the local market well and who I know can get the deal done. I want my clients to have the confidence knowing we’ll close on time, with little to no surprises on the money front.”

6. Make yourself readily available.

What better way to build a relationship with agents than to be right in the office next door? Several agents we talked to had great experience with lenders who would have “office hours” on-site one or two days a week. By being at their beck and call, you are organically incentivizing agents to want to work with you.

If office hours don’t work for you, simply provide agent contacts your cell phone number, and commit to being incredibly responsive to their calls, texts, and emails. That should include being proactive with your communication when appropriate.

“My go-to guy calls me every week on Tuesday with an update, even if nothing has changed,” says Mindy. “This is awesome! When I’m juggling 12 clients and offers, It’s nice to know who is at what point in their loan process. And if you’re waiting on something from the buyer and let me know, that allows me to put pressure on them to send it.”

7. Don’t crash their open house.

This came up again and again in our discussions with agents. While it might seem like a good way to (literally) get your foot in the door, it’s invasive and disrespectful to the agent. Of course, if you’re invited, some agents do appreciate having a trusted partner to discussing financing structures on-the-spot with prospective buyers.

8. Get creative with communication.

Agents are constantly bombarded with cold emails from loan officers. So what if you focused your efforts elsewhere? Share their posts on social media and interact with them digitally, or—even better—network in-person at local networking events. Many successful loan officers join BNI or Vistage groups where they interact not just with real estate agents, but accountants and lawyers too—all great sources of referrals.

(If in-person events aren’t happening due to COVID in your area, check out some virtual events where you can network over Zoom.)

9. Build genuine connection.

When you first meet a an agent, don’t “push” loans or start asking for appointments. Your goal should be to establish credibility and trust. Focus on quality relationship-building and sincere conversations to establish common ground.

“The mistake I see many mortgage reps make is the ’attack’ for business. I am approached by mortgage reps with a list of questions: ‘Who do you recommend to your clients for loans?’ ’How many deals do my agents do?’ ‘Can we make an appointment?’ Before you can get reception on that level, you have to build credibility and trust. Without overdoing the mortgage conversation, network on common ground first,” says Jeanne Feeni, a successful agent in Warren, NJ.

10. Go above and beyond your lender competition.

The ultimate differentiator, of course, is a willingness to take that extra step your competitors don’t quite reach. This could mean being available for your most valuable real estate agent connections outside of work hours, proactively communicating when you’ll be unavailable, or even “guaranteeing” closing dates. If you’re willing to work hard to offer top-notch service to the agents you serve, you’ll steadily grow a reputation of excellence that travels through the referral channels of your market.

This might even include being helpful and insightful in situations that don’t provide immediate reward or compensation. Mindy, for instance, recounts a story that illustrates the value of her go-to lender: “I am primarily a buyer’s agent, but had two listings coming up. I was lamenting to my lender that I wouldn’t be able to recommend him to the buyers because I’m not representing them, and he offered to review the buyer’s qualifications by speaking to the lender they were using. This was so nice of him—helping me to be sure we were choosing the right offer in a bidding war while also getting absolutely nothing out of it.”

By simply being helpful, offering value, and standing out among other lenders, you’ll become the obvious choice for agent business, even in competitive markets like today.

Want more tips directly from agents? Download our free ebook “Winning Agent Business” to learn how to become the go-to lender in your market.

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